When I was a kid of about ten or eleven, I knew something that my cousins didn’t. I knew that my Grandma Myrtle would often set her fancy holiday table days before the actual event. I was privy to this insider information because out of nine grandkids, my brother and I were the only two who came from out of town. So unlike our cousins, we’d generally arrive at Grandma’s house a few days prior to any holiday. And almost always, we’d race in to find the table expanded to full capacity and set with her fine china. I always thought this was funny and sort of strange. Didn’t she have anything better to do, I wondered?
Well. Bite my tongue. Having just hosted my first ever, full blown Thanksgiving – I’m here to tell you that it turns out Grandma did have something better to do. Like maybe the prep work for a big ol’ roast turkey, a half dozen sides, and a couple of deserts. Oh, and she might have spent some time tidying the house and making sure there were clean sheets for the company. I wasn’t far into my own holiday preparations before I decided to take a page from Myrtle’s book and get the table set. Clearly she was onto something.
My table wasn’t as fancy as Grandma’s, but it got the job done. Butcher paper and crayons stood in for a long table cloth that I don’t own. Simple fall fruits and pinecones took the place of a flower arrangement. And my Grandma Marjorie’s china got a long-awaited reviaval. When my two nieces burst into my kitchen on Wednesday, I chuckled and gave a nod to Myrtle after they realized the table wasn’t set for that night’s meal. “Wait,” one of them asked incredulously, “This is for tomorrow?” I assured them that someday they’d understand. And then I told them about their great Grandma Myrtle.
Overall my inaugural Thanksgiving hosting went pretty well. My family was very forgiving of all my racing around. And they didn’t even mention that flash freezing my Parker House rolls after their final rise didn’t exactly work. There were a few things I would do differently in the kitchen next time, but by in large, it was a perfect holiday. There was good old-fashioned charades, custom made word-finds, and scavenger hunts. We even managed to get out and run the Chequamgon Bay 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.
We did, of course, find plenty of time to eat between all these activities. On the food front, I’d say there were two hidden gems. One was the surprise “banana tower” that my niece Evie constructed for us the morning after our big feast. It is as straightforward as it sounds – a raging tower of banana pieces. But we all agreed that the bananas were perfectly ripe. And plucking them off the tower one by one was especially gratifying.
The other star was a simple appetizer that really held its own, even against our succulent heritage turkey
with bacon-herb butter stuffed under it’s skin. Keeping with the bacon theme, I knew I wanted to do a bacon wrapped something for a pre-meal tidbit. For the kids I decided I couldn’t go wrong with pineapple chunks wrapped in bacon. And for the adults, I found an old Gourmet
recipe that fit what I was after perfectly. Bacon wrapped Parmesan-stuffed dates. Each bite offers a mini explosion of smokey, salty, and sweet. They’re satisfying without being overly rich and pair nicely with a glass of wine. And they are a cinch to make. On a whim I gave both the kid and adult versions a light drizzle of honey before popping them in the oven. Because what isn’t made better by a light drizzle of honey? Hope you all had a holiday that was sweet and cozy.
Bacon Wrapped Parmesan-Stuffed Dates
(Adapted from Gourmet)
12 Medjool dates
12 matchstick size pieces of Parmesan (about 1-inch by 1/8-inch)
4 bacon slices, raw – cut into thirds
Make a slit in each date with a paring knife and remove the pit. Stuff one piece of cheese into each date through the same slit. Wrap each date with a third piece of bacon, covering the slit, and securing with a toothpick. Arrange assembled dates on a baking sheet and drizzle very lightly with honey. Bake in a 425º F oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp. Drain on a paper towel and serve warm. Serves about 6.